The academic pursuit was as valuable as the capture.
That’s what Iris Arbogast, Jack DeBouter, Julia Elrod, Hannah McNulty, Simon Perales, and Kalista Young said of being valedictorians of the Oberlin High School Class of 2016.
The award allows them to speak at graduation June 3, but it also improved their discipline, focus, and work ethic.
At the high school, the students who graduate with the highest GPA over four years are valedictorians rather than an individual student with the highest GPA.
Arbogast said being a valedictorian has been a goal since eighth grade as a way to achieve her personal best. She spent four to five hours per day studying and always tried to over-prepare with an “insane amount” of work.
Arbogast studied in 40-minute blocks followed by 10-minute breaks to say focused. She plans to major in biology or environmental studies at Carleton College about 30 miles south of Minneapolis/St. Paul, but said she doesn’t believe she’s especially smart. “I just work really, really hard and since I was really young I’ve had this belief that if I worked really hard I could do anything I wanted to,” she said.
Arbogast said her parents were supportive but didn’t pressure her to excel academically. “Because it was my own idea, I was way more interested in it for my own benefit and not because someone was telling me to do it,” she said.
Jack DeBouter said he never aimed to be the top graduate — he simply tried to give his best each year. He said he averaged about an hour per day of studying, targeting his efforts to maximize performance.
“I know how much I have to put in to get out what I want to get out,” said DeBouter, who plans to major in music and political science at Middlebury College in Vermont. “That’s always been good to keep me focused.”
McNulty was home-schooled until her freshmen year of high school. She said she initially struggled academically and doubted she could earn the grades to become a valedictorian. McNulty credits “last minute panic” about academic deadlines and intellectual curiosity for her success.
“I just struggle sometimes on actually getting started on things,” said McNulty who plans to major in English literature at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Usually once I’m there, it’s the interest that keeps me going.”
McNulty, who studied about three hours per day, said she’s ambivalent about grades determining a valedictorian. She said a valedictorian is meant to inspire classmates and getting good grades isn’t the only way to do that.
Nonetheless, she is looking forward to speaking at graduation. “It’s a cool opportunity,” she said.
Like McNulty, Elrod said she’s keeping being a valedictorian in perspective. She said she studied a few hours per day, but also took Netflix breaks for shows like “Gilmore Girls” and “New Girl.”
“It wasn’t so much I dreamed of being valedictorian and I wanted to be better than other people, but I wanted to do my best,” said Elrod who hasn’t decided on a major, but plans to attend Kenyon College in Gambier outside Columbus. “Having set high standards for myself already, I think I’ll be even more motivated to keep doing well.”
Academic achievement has also motivated Perales, who studied about two hours per day. He said he also benefited from his track and field training.
Perales, who runs a 4:27 mile and also competes in two-mile and 4X800-meter relay competitions, said track made him learn the value of getting eight hours of sleep per night. He said many students stay up too late studying and it hurts their performance on tests.
Athletic competition also helped Perales deal with academic pressure: “It’s kind of weird, but the ability to make myself not care about something temporarily has really helped me in running and in school,” said Perales, who plans to major in physics at Haverford College outside Philadelphia.
Young’s fast pace is more intellectual than physical. Young, who transferred from the Los Angeles area to Oberlin for her senior year, is writing a novel set in Stalinist Russia for her senior project. She also sings in choir, plays piano, and loves languages. She has studied Arabic, French, German, Korean, Spanish, and Swedish.
Young studies four to five hours per night. She said communicating in another language has made her more well-rounded.
“You develop a different identity and I think that’s really cool to become a part of a different culture instead of being narrow-minded and speaking one language,” she said. She plans to major in math at Boston College.
Young is described as a “math whiz” by senior class adviser Ron Bier, who has advised about 55 valedictorians since coming to the high school in 1997.
He said he’s watched students with varied backgrounds, perspectives, and talents walk through the OHS halls. The Class of 2016 is no different.
Arbogast spent a year studying in China and a year in Guyana, which neighbors Venezuela. Perales is the high school’s first state qualifier in cross country and Oberlin’s first miler to qualify for state competition since 1948.
DeBouter plays viola while Elrod and McNulty are pianists. All the valedictorians take International Baccalaureate classes, which are higher-level courses designed to stimulate students emotionally and intellectually.
Bier said the valedictorians all sought to challenge themselves. “They’re not taking classes they can coast by in,” he said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.